Is Obama’s national security adviser out of the loop?

It could simply be Gen James Jones’ unassuming manner, but President Obama’s national security adviser certainly sounds and looks disengaged. He’s like a retired executive who got called up to fill-in during a protracted search for a permanent replacement.

A week ago, Peter Feaver noted that a Financial Times article on Obama’s core team of advisers made no mention of Jones. To have been included would have been no honor, yet to be left out of the picture reinforces the impression that Jones has a voice that simply doesn’t get heard and when you hear what he has to say it often seems like he’s not worth listening to.

Bloomberg reported:

Tighter international sanctions on Iran will increase pressure on the government there and could end up causing regime change, U.S. National Security Adviser James Jones said.

“We are about to add to that regime’s difficulties, by engineering, participating in very tough sanctions,” Jones said in an interview on “Fox News Sunday.” Combined with internal dissent, the sanctions “could trigger regime change,” he said.

At Foreign Policy, Blake Hounshell dismisses Jones’ prediction:

First, let’s get one thing straight: There will be no tough sanctions. As FP’s Colum Lynch has reported, China doesn’t even have a go-to Iran hand right now, and has shown little interest in damaging relations with a country that supplies 11 percent of its oil imports. Beijing will see to it that whatever sanctions do pass the U.N. Security Council are toothless, as the Chinese have done on all previous occasions. They’ll give just enough to allow the Obama administration to say it passed something, while wringing concessions out of Washington that we may never know about.

As for the likelihood of regime change, Hillary Clinton certainly didn’t give a hint that she sees that prospect. On the contrary, she sees the regime’s power concentrating in the hands of the military.

The New York Times reported:

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said on Monday that the United States feared Iran was drifting toward a military dictatorship, with the Islamic Revolutionary Guards Corps seizing control of large swaths of Iran’s political, military, and economic establishment.

“That is how we see it,” Mrs. Clinton said in a televised town hall meeting of students at the Doha campus of Carnegie Mellon University. “We see that the government in Iran, the supreme leader, the president, the Parliament, is being supplanted and that Iran is moving towards a military dictatorship.”

The United States, she said, was tailoring a new set of tougher United Nations sanctions to target the Revolutionary Guards Corps, which controls Iran’s nuclear program and which she said had increasingly marginalized the country’s clerical and political leadership.

Mrs. Clinton’s remarks were remarkably blunt, given her audience in Qatar, a Persian Gulf emirate with close ties to Iran. But they build on the administration’s recent strategy of branding the corps as an “entitled class” that is the principal menace in Iran.

Even if Clinton doesn’t belong to Obama’s inner power circle, there’s much more reason to think that she reflects the views of the administration than does Jones.

That view has hardened to one which sees neither the possibility of productively engaging with Iran’s current leadership nor the prospect for sweeping political change inside the Islamic republic.

The language of engagement is now being replaced by the language of containment.

As the Times reported:

The United States, Mrs. Clinton said, would protect its allies in the gulf from Iranian aggression — a pledge that echoed the idea of a “security umbrella” that she advanced last summer in Asia. She noted that the United States already supplied defensive weapons to several of these countries, and was prepared to bolster its military assistance if necessary.

“We will always defend ourselves, and we will always defend our friends and allies, and we will certainly defend countries who are in the Gulf who face the greatest immediate nearby threat from Iran,” she said. “We also are talking at length with a lot of our friends in the Gulf about what they need defensively in the event that Iran pursues its nuclear ambitions.”

Pressed repeatedly by an audience of mainly Muslim students, Mrs. Clinton said the United States had no plans to carry out a military strike against Iran.

The Pentagon likewise echoes Clinton’s lack of appetite for military action, as Ynet reported:

Admiral Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, told reporters in Israel on Sunday that the US administration is very serious regarding its plans to impose harsh sanctions on Iran and expressed hope that such a step would ‘not end in violence.”

During a press briefing held at the US embassy in Tel Aviv, Mullen hinted that the US could attack Iran if negotiations failed and that such action could have “unintended consequences” throughout the volatile Middle East.

And if the US is unwilling to use force, that should not be taken to imply that Israel will take on the task.

As Reuters reported on Saturday:

Israel may lack the military means for successful pre-emptive strikes against Iranian nuclear facilities, its former top general said on Saturday.

While endorsing international efforts to pressure Tehran into curbing sensitive nuclear technologies, Israel has hinted it could resort to force. But some analysts say Israeli jets would be stymied by the distance to Iran and by its defences. Asked in a television interview about Israeli leaders’ vows to “take care” of the perceived threat, ex-general Dan Halutz, who stepped down as armed forces chief in 2007, said: “We are taking upon ourselves a task that is bigger than us.”

“I think that the State of Israel should not take it upon itself to be the flag-bearer of the entire Western world in the face of the Iranian threat,” Halutz, whose previous military post was as air force commander, told Channel Two.

If the Obama administration’s approach to Iran is uninspired, maybe we can at least be thankful that Washington now wants to invoke images of umbrellas rather than mushroom clouds.

As for talk of regime change, that just comes from a retired general content to merely dream that one day he might advise the president.

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